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Edward Carter II Director, American Philosophical Society Library
Why did Franklin start the American Philosophical Society?

American Philosophical Society
American Philosophical Society. Image © 2002 www.clipart.com.

The American Philosophical Society, located in Philadelphia, cultural center of the United States, was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743. Its purpose was to pursue "all philosophical Experiments that let Light into the Nature of Things, tend to increase the Power of Man over Matter, and multiply the Conveniences or Pleasures of Life."

The society fit nicely into the Age of Enlightenment as its members strove to study the natural philosophy, now known as the study of nature. It became well known because of its astronomical observations in the 1760s. David Rittenhouse, a society member, plotted the transit of Venus, adding to the Society’s stature.

Meriwether Lewis met with many members of the society to prepare for his expedition. He discussed medicine with Dr. Benjamin Rush, astronomy with Andrew Ellicott and Robert Patterson , botany with Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton, and fossils with Dr. Caspar Wistar. Lewis sent some of the natural history specimens gathered by the expedition to the society.

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